Why are Russia’s Fires Out of Control?

ForestFire081010.jpgAs more than 500 fires continue to burn throughout Russia, with little success of bringing the catastrophe under control, people are beginning to increasingly blame the state, citing government cuts in fire-protection resources and poor forestry management over the last two decades as the prime culprits behind the disaster. RFE/RL reports:

…[A] radical revamp of the service has left Russia’s forests virtually unprotected. Sharp spending cuts in the 1990s began to drain the forestry service of employees and equipment. And a 2007 Forestry Code further decimated the ranks by moving responsibility for forest supervision away from the state and onto local authorities or individual renters in or around forested areas — including wood-processing companies and developers with no vested interest in protecting the forests.

Aleksei Yaroshenko, a forestry expert with Greenpeace Russia, says the new code effectively eliminated in a single blow the entire forest-protection system built up in the Soviet era — cutting back rangers by 75 percent and replacing them with smaller, less effective, ranks of office workers.

“There are no more forest rangers, in the old sense of the word — people who were right there, on the spot, to protect the forest,” Yaroshenko says. “These people basically no longer exist. There are other forest-management office employees now who occasionally do something in the forest, but for the most part they fill out forms and do bureaucratic tasks. So the forest is unprotected — and, of course, this is how it’s been for the past 3 1/2 years.”

(AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)